Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth welcomes its first consecrated virgin in the faith communitydfwnewsa | January 27, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News
Mary Del Olmo walks into St. Patrick Cathedral on Nov. 22, 2023, the Memorial of St. Cecilia, for the Mass during which she was consecrated as a virgin by Bishop Michael Olson. (Courtesy photo |Juan Guajardo, North Texas Catholic)
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Mary Del Olmo looked out onto the shore of Lake Dallas during a 2012 spiritual retreat when she was reminded of a prayer she made to God as a teenager: If she wasn’t married by the time she was 30 years old, she would consider joining a convent.
The prayer became a catalyst to an 11-year journey of Del Olmo deepening her faith and making history in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. Instead of joining a religious order of nuns, Del Olmo became in November the diocese’s first consecrated virgin.
Del Olmo, now 42, shares how she has been living since the sacrament, manifesting her faith through her day-to-day life as a physical therapist, working on her family’s ranch and through her church.
“It was this long, windy road that took time and patience,” Del Olmo said.
Discerning consecrated virginity
Del Olmo considers herself a ”cradle Catholic,” she said. She was born Catholic, baptized Catholic and attended Catholic schools through her senior year of high school. The Texas native moved around to Chicago, Boston and New Hampshire for college and graduate school before moving back to the Lone Star State in 2010.
Del Olmo found herself settling in Muenster, a town about an hour north of Fort Worth, and became a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which is part of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
“At that point, my mom was living there and I also was feeling really unsettled in life. I just felt like I didn’t have a direction,” Del Olmo said. “Muenster is a very culturally Catholic town.”
After moving back to Texas, Del Olmo started going to silent religious retreats such as Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas.
“That’s really where I started to deepen not just my faith — my faith has always been strong in terms of believing in God — but I started to mature in my spirituality, in my relationship with God and Jesus Christ,” Del Olmo said.
Del Olmo had originally thought that she might want to join a religious order of nuns when she was older, she said. She started doing mission work in Guatemala and Haiti and visiting the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur in Fort Worth. It wasn’t until 2017 that she learned about consecrated virginity through her godmother and prayed for direction.
“I did specifically ask God, what did he make me for. I very clearly heard, ‘I made you for a great love,’ and it was really that moment that I realized that the love that I had to share was going to be far too big for marriage to a human man,” Del Olmo said.
Mary Del Olmo smiles after she receives the veil during the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity on Nov. 22, 2023, at St. Patrick Cathedral. (Courtesy photo |Juan Guajardo, North Texas Catholic)
At that moment, Del Olmo said, she decided to completely stop dating and focus on how she could live a form of religious life that has been part of the Catholic faith for centuries.
Consecrated virginity: a historic religious sacrament
Although having a consecrated virgin is new to the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth, the form of religious life dates back to the early centuries of the world, said Erik Estrada, an assistant professor at Texas Christian University.
“In especially the third century in the West you find mentions of people who had consecrated or dedicated their lives to a celibate lifestyle,” Estrada said.
Who can be consecrated?
According to the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins, the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity states the following requirements for women living in the world to receive the consecration:
That they have never married or lived in open violation of chastity.
That by their prudence, and universally approved character they give assurance of perseverance in a life of chastity dedicated to the service of the church and of their neighbor.
That they be admitted to this Consecration by the Bishop who is the local Ordinary.
“They didn’t marry, they didn’t engage in any form of sexual activity, but they used their time, instead, to engage in spiritual activities,” Estrada said. “Within the ecclesial realm and the fullest spiritual sense, virginity is devotion to God and commitment to God.”
History of consecrated virginity in the Catholic Church
The consecration of a virgin is one of the oldest sacramentals in the Catholic Church for women, according to the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins. There are about 254 consecrated virgins in the U.S., according to 2018 numbers from the association.
Consecrated virginity in the Catholic Church has become rare in modern times, said Del Olmo’s pastor, the Rev. Joseph Keating. A declaration to resurrect the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity came from the Second Vatican Council in the 1970s, according to the United States Association of Consecrated Virgins.
In comparison to other forms of religious life such as nuns or priests who live in a monastery or a convent, women who choose to be a consecrated virgin can have a public life, said the Rev. Brett Metzler, director of vocations for the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
“As far as we know, at least in the first couple of centuries, they just lived like everyone else. They worked, they went to church, they lived in the community … but they just didn’t get married as part of those special sacrifices for God.”
Instead of being married to another person, becoming a consecrated virgin means that they are spiritually married to Christ, Keating said.
Keating became pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Muenster in 2019, after Del Olmo started living the lifestyle of a consecrated virgin and was in the process of requesting to be a candidate for consecration in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
“She was very patient because you see this being very unfamiliar territory for most of us in Fort Worth,” Keating said.
Becoming a consecrated virgin provided Del Olmo the space to continue her life as a physical therapist, serving as president of her family’s 3,000-acre ranch and continuing to help with the music ministry at her church. In this role, a big part of Del Olmo’s day-to-day life includes praying for those in need.
“I’m not married to a human man, and I don’t have children of my own. I am free to serve everyone, as a mother, in whatever way they need a mother,” Del Olmo said, “whether it’s to feed them, comfort them, cook for them or house them.”
Since Del Olmo received consecration to a life of virginity, she said, she is looking forward to her future in her religious life.
“Remaining a virgin and espousing to Christ gives me a freedom to serve in a way that, that someone married to another human doesn’t have,” Del Olmo said. “This doesn’t mean this is everybody’s path to holiness. It’s mine as an individual.”
Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @marissaygreene.
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